Scheduling Your Divorce Trial in Stafford County
What Happens at Civil “Term Day”
Stafford County is one of the busier jurisdictions in Northern Virginia, with a very active civil docket. On any given day, a Circuit Court Judge may hear a debtor-creditor action in the morning, a landlord-tenant dispute before lunch, and then spend the entire afternoon on a child custody case. The judges’ calendars are carefully monitored, allowing parties sufficient time to have their day in court. On the civil side, trials are scheduled on “Term Day.”
Stafford’s civil term is a period of three months, with new terms beginning on the first Monday in January, April, July and October. The first day of each term is commonly referred to as “Term Day.” At Term Day, any case that is “mature” (ready to be heard) may be placed on the docket to have a trial date set with the judge assigned to hear your case. If you have filed a lawsuit, you will not get a trial date until you have requested it be scheduled through a Term Day appearance.
The Court begins setting trials on the Term Day docket at 11:00 a.m. It is very important that you be at the Courthouse on time, because Stafford requires you to appear on Term Day – if you are not there when your case is called, the judge may dismiss your case. Typically, one of the three Circuit Court judges will handle the Term Day docket for the entire Circuit. Because of this, on Term Day the courtroom will be filled to capacity with parties and attorneys, and many individuals must stand and wait for their case to be called. It would be wise to arrive at least fifteen minutes early to wait in relative comfort with a seat.
One by one, the judge will call each case. The parties will come forward, verify for the court the type of case they are setting for trial, and will ask the court for a trial date where the Court has enough time available to hear the case. For some cases, like a landlord-tenant case, or debtor-creditor action, that may be only a few hours. For a complex divorce or a personal injury claim, that could be multiple days. The judge will confer with the Clerk of Court to find the next available date with enough available time to accommodate the parties’ request, finding a time that works for the parties and the court.
The court may ask you whether you want your case to be heard in “first position” or “second position.” First position means that no other cases are set to be heard on that day; second position means a trial is already set for that date and time. There are pros and cons to each option. If you set your case in first position, you know that if your case does not settle it will be heard that day. To find a date where first position is available, though, will likely require waiting for a court date that is several months, or even a full year, in the future. Second position reverses things: you get a trial date sooner, but if the case in first position does not settle your matter gets continued to a later date.
Once your matter has been given a date and time, and first or second position, you are free to leave. If you are represented by an attorney, the court will allow him or her to appear in your absence and handle the lengthy Term Day docket on your behalf. The Stafford divorce lawyers at Livesay & Myers handle a number of family law cases in Stafford County and regularly schedule divorce hearings on the Term Day docket. If you have a custody or divorce matter in Stafford County, contact us today to schedule a consultation.